Freedom versus Tyranny

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In Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, multiple references to the theme of freedom versus tyranny are made. Whether it is Tyranny from responsibility, authority, or Set before the onset of the American Revolution, we are introduced to the lackadaisical, yet “good-natured fellow” known as Rip Van Winkle. From the beginning, he is under the constant yoke of his wife, Dame Van Winkle’s scrutiny. She frequently prods at his reluctance at making productive use of his time. Rip would rather entertain himself in the company of his dog, his fishing pole, and the local children of the village in sport. “In a word, Rip was ready to attend to anybody’s business but his own; but as to doing family duty, and keeping his farm in order, he found it impossible.” (Irving, para. 5) Dame Van Winkle represents Tyranny from responsibility. Rip finds a morbid solace from Dame Van Winkle’s nagging when he returns from the Catskills to learn of his wife’s demise. “There was a drop of comfort, at least, in this intelligence. The honest man could contain himself no longer.” (Irving, para. 42) This story speaks allegorically to the Tyranny of the British crown during this time. Rip Van Winkle and the issues with his wife can be seen as a parallel to the colonies and the Crown. Before he took his slumber, the man was a subject of King George III, but when he returns, he finds that his beloved Inn is now “The Union Hotel,” his once familiar Union Jack has been replaced with “a singular assemblage of stars and stripes,” and where his townsfolk were once subjects, they are preaching to the status of a new nation. “In place of these, a lean fellow, with his pockets full of handbills, was haranguing vehemently about rights of citizens—elections—members of congress—Bunker’s Hill—heroes of seventy-six—and other words, which were a perfect jargon to the bewildered Van Winkle.”

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